Tag Archive for theater
by Olivia Drake •
The shows must go on.
Rather than allowing the COVID-19 pandemic to force a final curtain call on theatrical productions, Wesleyan’s Theater Department pivoted to an online format. On May 1, and again on May 2, the department offered livestreamed performances of The Method Gun, featuring 10 student-actors.
A replay of the Saturday performance is available for viewing on The Method Gun @ Wes website.
After countless hours of line rehearsals, overcoming technical frustrations, and learning how to act and teach theater in a virtual world, show director and Assistant Professor of Theater Katie Pearl breathed a sigh of relief during the Thursday night dress rehearsal.
“I almost can’t believe what we pulled off,” Pearl said. “It was super down-to-the-wire. We were cutting and rewriting scenes up until the last minute and wrestling with livestreaming software, but it all came together on Thursday. For the first time, it really worked. And all of us just wept afterwards. Because we’d made a thing. We’d transcended what felt like an impossible situation, and stayed committed to each other and the process to create something that really meant what we wanted it to mean.”
by Lauren Rubenstein •
Wesleyan in the News
1. The Open Mind: “Democratizing the Jury”
Associate Professor of Government Sonali Chakravarti is interviewed in connection with her new book, Radical Enfranchisement in the Jury Room and Public Life, in which she offers a “full-throated defense of juries as a democratic institution.” “I am very interested in how ordinary people engage with political institutions, and juries are the place where ordinary people have the most power,” she says. Chakravarti calls for more robust civic education, continuing into adulthood, in order to have a “more effective, modern jury system.”
Senator Chris Murphy, who is the co-sponsor of a bill to expand the federal Pell grant program for college students to include inmates, met with 11 inmates who have participated in educational programs at York Correctional Institution through the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education and other college-in-prison programs.“What’s important about the REAL Act is that college affordability should be accessible to all students regardless of where they are,” said CPE program manager Allie Cislo. “It’s one thing rhetorically to commit to reentry,” she said, but resources like educational programs “can make or break it for people.”
3. American Theatre: “Digging for New Roots”
This article on “climate change theatre” features Ocean Filibuster, a play by Assistant Professor of Theater Katie Pearl through her theater company, PearlDamour. Commenting on the play’s premise, in which a new Senate bill proposes sentencing the world’s oceans to death and the ocean stands to speak in its own defense, Pearl said, “We thought, well, what if the ocean finally got fed up with taking all of our crap, and started talking and didn’t stop until we actually shut up and listened?” American Theatre, a leading publication in the theater industry, writes: “Ocean Filibuster recalibrates the human experience by reminding us of the comparatively small scale and depth of our own existence.”
by Editorial Staff •
From Wisconsin to Massachusetts, Assistant Professor of Theater Katie Pearl has visited five small American towns named Milton and developed a series of performances, each focused on (and performed in) a particular Milton.
Since 2012, Pearl and Lisa D’Amour—known collectively as PearlDamour—have led the performance and community engagement experiment.
In November 2019, PearlDamour released MILTON, a book that includes the full text of PearlDamour’s North Carolina performance, along with photos and excerpts from performances in Oregon and Massachusetts, and essay reflections on the process and practice of community-based art-making.
For more than 20 years, Obie-Award winning PearlDamour has pushed the boundaries of theatrical experience both inside and outside traditional theater spaces. PearlDamour’s work also includes the 8-hour performance installation How to Build a Forest, inspired by Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill and devised for traditional theatre stages; and Lost in the Meadow, created for a 40-acre hillside at Longwood Botanical Gardens outside Philadelphia, exploring the short-sightedness of humans. They were honored with the Lee Reynolds Award in 2011 for How to Build a Forest, and with an Obie Award in 2003 for Nita and Zita.
This spring, Pearl is teaching the THEA 381 course Directing II.
by Editorial Staff •
William “Bill” Francisco, professor of theater, emeritus, died on Friday, Nov. 22, at the age of 86.
Francisco received his BA from Amherst College in 1955, and his MFA in directing from the Yale School of Drama in 1958. He joined the Wesleyan faculty as an artist-in-residence in 1974 and as an associate professor in 1975. He taught theater here for 28 years until he retired in 2002.
Francisco was an active director throughout his career, working in theater, opera, television, and film. He directed productions off-Broadway, at Hartford Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, San Francisco Opera, and many other prominent theaters across the U.S. and Canada. At Wesleyan, in addition to directing productions, he taught courses in voice, acting, and directing. He also taught a number of interdisciplinary workshops, including a screenwriting workshop with Kit Reed.
His colleague, Gay Smith, professor of theater, emerita, said: “What a gifted director! His productions of Waiting for Godot, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, and Évita are emblazoned in my memory, as I’m sure they are in the memories of his students, his most renowned and grateful for Bill’s tutoring being Lin-Manuel Miranda.”
Jack Carr, professor of theater, emeritus, said: “When I think back on my time with Bill, I immediately recall how he invested himself totally, intellectually and emotionally, in every production he directed and every student he mentored… He was the most inventive, innovative and inspiring director with whom I have ever collaborated. Bill also was a most supportive and loyal colleague/friend. I miss him every day.”
Francisco is survived by his nephew, Aaron Francisco and Aaron’s wife, Jennifer.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
Gilbert Parker ’48, a retired literary agent who represented many of the country’s most influential playwrights over the span of nearly half a century, died Oct. 29, 2019. He was 92 and had served in the US Navy during World War II.
The first theater major at Wesleyan, he earned his degree with honors and distinction. Beginning his career at Liebling-Wood, Inc., as the assistant to Audrey Wood, the renowned agent who represented Tennessee Williams and other significant playwrights, Parker later joined the William Morris Agency, retiring in 2000.
Parker was noted as an adviser and mentor to many young and aspiring Wesleyan theater majors, and in his honor, Thomas Kail ’99 and Claire Labine (a former client of Parker’s and creator/head writer of Ryan’s Hope) created a Wesleyan scholarship in Parker’s name in 2012. In a note to those gathered in New York City to celebrate the Gilbert Parker Endowed Scholarship, President Michael S. Roth ’78 had observed, “During your sparkling 50-year career as an agent, the Wesleyan community took pride in your reflected glory. You made this relationship with our alma mater deeper and more personal, then and following your retirement, by closely mentoring Wesleyan graduates in the theater world like Thomas Kail ’99, Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, John Buffalo Mailer ’00, and Bill Sherman ’02, among others. It’s wonderful that a group of your friends and protégés initiated this scholarship fund (and typical of your generosity, Gilbert, that you have contributed to it).”
A memorial service is planned for Parker on Feb. 3, 2020, in New York City. Those who would like more information, or would like to make a gift to the Gilbert Parker Endowed Scholarship Fund at Wesleyan University in celebration of his life, please contact Marcy Herlihy at firstname.lastname@example.org; 860/685-2523; Wesleyan University Office of Advancement, 291 Main Street, Middletown, CT 06457.
by Olivia Drake •
This summer, award-winning actor, singer, producer, and new assistant professor of theater Maria-Christina Oliveras acted in the world premiere of Kiss My Aztec, a new musical on Latino history.
Written by John Leguizamo and Tony Taccone, winners of the 2018 Special Tony Award for Latin History of Morons, the musical debuted May through July at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Performances will continue at La Jolla Playhouse starting Sept. 8.
Oliveras became involved in the musical’s developmental process in 2014, when it started out as a play and evolved over time.
“I am a new works junkie. There is nothing like ‘brain-childing’ a piece from its inception,” Oliveras said in a recent interview with Broadway World. She described the show as a “non-traditional epic musical comedy with teeth. It is brash, bold, hilarious and vulgar. An Aztec take or retake of history in the vein of Spamalot or Book of Mormon. We are not aiming for historical accuracy. And we are ‘equal opportunity offenders.'”
by Olivia Drake •
Ron Jenkins, professor and chair of theater, is the author of a new book titled Resurrection of the Saints: Sacred Tragi-Comedy in Venafro published by Bulzoni in July 2019 as part of the company’s international series on “Theater and Memory.” The volume is in dual languages; the first part is in Italian, the second translated into English.
Resurrection of the Saints is an analysis of a 200-year-old theatrical tradition in the Italian village of Venafro, where the citizens still perform an 18th-century play that recounts the martyrdom of their patron saints in the third century. In 1792, Giuseppe Macchia wrote the play, “Religion Triumphant” and labeled it “a sacred tragicomedy.”
The book includes Jenkins’s translation of the play and interviews he conducted with the performers, whose professions include nurse, architect, graphic designer, and art restorer.
“Framed as a battle between an angel and a devil for the souls of the saints, the play is a lost link between the medieval traditions of sacred theater and the modern comic masterpieces of the late Italian Nobel Laureate, Dario Fo,” said Jenkins, who has translated Fo’s works for performance at the Yale Repertory Theater, Harvard’s American Repertory Theater, and other venues.
“My experience working with Fo helped me to capture the comic theatrical rhythms of Macchia’s play,” he said. “Anyone interested in the power of the arts to unite a community and preserve the traditions that define its cultural identity would enjoy the play and this book.”
Jenkins is the author of numerous books and was named Honorary Member of the Dante Society of America for having performed theatrical representations of excerpts from Dante’s “Divine Comedy” in prisons throughout Italy, Indonesia, and the United States. Resurrection of the Saints is part of Jenkins’s ongoing research on theater and community.
by Olivia Drake •
Students in the Mixed in America: Race, Religion, and Memoir course explored mixed-race identities not only through reading, writing, and classroom discussion, but through performative art.
Throughout the semester, students used the genre of the memoir as a focusing lens to look at ways that Americans of mixed heritage have found a place, crafted an identity, and made meaning out of being considered “mixed.”
The course is part of Wesleyan’s Creative Campus Initiative, which pairs non-arts faculty with artists for collaborative teaching and research. Professor Liza McAlister teamed up with the local professional theater organization ARTFARM to offer students a module of four classes under the instruction of artistic director Marcella Trowbridge.
In the students’ exploration of memoir, Trowbridge asked them to interview a family member and craft a short performative piece based on their interviews–or–their responses to their interviews.
“We spoke about ‘brass tack’ strategies for interviewing and documentation, but then left the linear procedural work for a process-based inquiry,” Trowbridge explained.
The class collaboratively brainstormed and worked physically with mark-making, personal items, architecture, kinesthetic response, and the use of space. Students also learned about using text, gestures, movement, sound, repetition, and props in a performance.
On April 18 and 19, the students shared their compositions with their classmates.
by Olivia Drake •
Senior Katherine Paterson’s passion for theater and environmental studies has grown over the past two months while she constructed a greenhouse for an honors thesis that explores and links together urban farming, communal activity, and theater.
On Earth Day, April 22, Paterson presented (at)tend, a durational performance of song, poetry, and spoken word, which unfolded over the course of the spring semester. The project involved the collective construction, seeding, and tending of a greenhouse by students and community members, and culminated with a spring harvest.
“The goal of the project was to serve as an experiment in creative place-making—in creating a space that the larger Wesleyan community helps to build and maintain,” she said. “A greenhouse containing living plants brings people together and links them with one another and their environment.”
The thesis also explored the questions, “Where does our food come from? How does it grow? How does changing our relationship to food affect our interactions with one another and with our environments?”
Paterson’s advisor is Katherine Brewer Ball, assistant professor of theater. The project was sponsored by the Wesleyan Green Fund, the Department of Theater and the College of the Environment.
A photo essay of the thesis project is below (photos by Olivia Drake MALS ’08):
Feb. 29: Paterson kicked off the project inside a cold frame at Long Lane Farm. Cold-frame structures allow gardeners to get a head start on the growing season. Students broke up compacted soil and filled large bins. Paterson taught fellow students how to plant seeds and mark containers.
During the summer of 2017, Paterson conducted field research in New York City (funded by a College of the Environment grant). She interned at Harlem Grown, an urban farm, and visited Swale, a floating food forest. The experiences helped shape and inform her thesis project.
by Olivia Drake •
During Winter Session, 14 Wesleyan students studied live, site-based theater performances in Santiago, Chile.
The course, THEA 357: Space and Materiality, was taught by Marcela Oteíza, assistant professor of theater, and took place during the Festival Internacional Santiago a Mil (FITAM), the most renowned theater festival in Santiago. This was the first abroad course offered by Winter Session.
“It was a wonderful experience for students and myself; particularly, to be able to share in situ with them the social and cultural history of Santiago within the framework of the festival,” Oteíza said. “Students learned about performance and reception theories, while participating in the performances and activities that the festival had to offer.”
Twenty students applied for the two-week intensive course, of which Oteíza was able to take 14, including sophomores, juniors and seniors. Half were theater majors, but the group also included anthropology, English, Spanish, biology, mathematics and American studies majors.
by Bill Holder •
The Theater Department has begun fall semester with a new chair who combines an impressive list of creative accomplishments with deep and varied experience as an academic administrator.
Kathleen Conlin, Frank B. Weeks Visiting Professor of Theater, has held tenured faculty positions at the University of Texas at Austin, Ohio State University, and the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana. While juggling the varied demands of an academic career, she also served for 22 seasons as associate artistic director and stage director at the Utah Shakespeare Theater.
“I love being around young people who are not narrowly defined and are actively working to discover who they are and who they are in society,” she says. “To be able to do that through an arts lens is spectacular.”